On 13 March, the EU urged start-up companies to come up with ideas and concepts to help tackle the coronavirus crisis. "48 hours later we had sent in a complete concept, our management had worked virtually non-stop to complete 30 pages including a financing model," said Dr. Boyd Cohen, co-founder and CEO of Iomob, in an interview with Markt&Technik. "And that's despite the fact that we're all in quarantine at our Barcelona office and working from home." During this time, Iomob has even succeeded in gaining the support of 16 other European transport organizations for the concept. By the following Friday, the number of supporters had even increased to 22.
Because Boyd Cohen immediately felt addressed and saw it as a great opportunity for his company: "At the moment there are many advisors who recommend to start-ups to reduce staff and to survive the crisis period in hibernation if possible. But this does not correspond at all to the mentality of the American: "Innovate don't hibernate" is his motto. As CEO of a start-up company that offers Mobility as a Service (MaaS), he felt he was in exactly the right position to do so. After all, transport companies, whether private or public, are very interested in designing their systems to be as safe as possible for people who rely on public transport despite the corona crisis.
"A key element of this is to ensure that people in transport systems are kept at an appropriate distance from each other so that the risk of infection is minimised," says Cohen. The good news is that this is relatively easy to accomplish, as long as only one additional filter is added to Iomob's existing MaaS app. This is because the company, founded in 2017 and headquartered in Barcelona, launched its first MaaS platform five months ago and has now expanded it with "COREMaaS" (COvid19-REsilent Maas). Iomob (the name comes from IoT Mobility) wanted to differentiate itself by being able to integrate practically all companies involved in passenger transport: From scooter and bicycle service providers and taxi companies to buses, subways, trains and airlines. These are precisely the customers of Iomob, the operators of passenger transport services, says Cohen. "Our platform is targeted at business-to-business and business-to-government customers, we don't offer business-to-consumer systems."
Many small private transportation providers are interested in being integrated as well as possible into the larger systems, such as those of ice rink operators. That's exactly what the platform does: end users can plan, order and pay for their journeys using all available means of transport. "From the very beginning, we have attached great importance to this deep integration, because this makes the system so easy for the end users that they actually use it. They don't have to leave our app for either ordering or payment, across the boundaries of all transport systems". The fact that it is a robust and operational system has already been demonstrated by its use at the Spanish railway company Renfe, and Skane Trafiken will soon be using "COREMaaS".
In order to obtain information about the occupancy of the respective means of transport quickly, Iomob relies on crowdsourcing. While Boyd Cohen admits that the reliability of the information is controversial, it is based on the fact that the individual users send corresponding messages in the first place, and if they do, they do so truthfully. That's why Iomob sought the advice of a specialist company, Six Fingers, to develop a system that users would be happy to use. Also, at the moment, everyone is very interested in helping as much as they can. In addition, self-interest plays a role: if you can rely on everyone providing honest information about the occupancy of the means of transport, you will benefit from it yourself in the end. And the operators who use "CORE MaaS" would also have an interest in ensuring that the transport systems function reliably for all users.
Whoever uses the system will be able to see the occupancy rate: Green stands for 20 percent, yellow for 20 to 40 percent and red for an occupancy rate of over 40 percent. The system only suggests alternatives that are safe for the user. For example, if someone is waiting for the next bus at a bus stop, a heavily occupied "red" bus is not even displayed; instead, they wait 10 minutes for the next bus. Or he is shown other routes where the means of transport are less busy. Or only those means of transport in which disinfectants are available.
But Boyd Cohen is already thinking beyond the crisis: "It turns out that there are a number of other possible applications for our CORE MaaS extension. For example, people with a weak immune system can use the app to reduce their risk of infection, and people who suffer from claustrophobia can use it in the same way as people who want to avoid large crowds for other reasons.